Amhara / Ethiopia / Irrigation / Markets / Value Chains

Vegetable seedlings: An emerging business and alternative input supply system in Ethiopia

Mecha district, a LIVES intervention area in the West Gojam Administrative Zone of Amhara region, is located about 535 kms northwest of Addis Ababa and  30 kms southwest of Bahir Dar town. The district is endowed with a number of perennial rivers and Koga, the biggest irrigation scheme in the region has an irrigation command area of 7,000 ha. The Koga irrigation scheme was finalized in May 2012 and more than 10,000 households residing in the irrigation scheme started year-round crop production. New crops are emerging in the farming system and irrigated crop production practices are continuously evolving. The number of input suppliers (vegetable seed and pesticide retailing shops), output traders, and brokers is also mushrooming in the area.

A young entrepreneur in Mecha district  at his vegetable seedling nursary (Photo: ILRI\ Yigzaw Dessalegne)

However, many of the  farmers living in this irrigation scheme are still new to irrigated vegetable crops production and post harvest handling practices. They do not know how to produce and process seeds of different vegetable crops and they thus purchase imported seed from local private vegetable seed retailers.

Imported seeds are mostly sold by legal and ethical retailers in packs but the quantity of each seed package is normally too much for what the farmers actually require. Further, the price of packed vegetable seeds can be as high as 3,000 birr/kg and is unaffordable for most smallholders. Finally, most farmers do not have adequate knowledge and skills to raise and manage vegetable seedlings.

This situation is creating a favorable environment for entrepreneurs to raise and market vegetable seedlings in the area. As input suppliers, they can also serve as alternative extension service providers, if they can also acquire necessary capacity building training and coaching.

A customer purchasing vegetable  seedlings  at the nursary (Photo: ILRI\ Yigzaw Dessalegne)

One of a few individuals who embarked upon this business is Tilahun Metaferiya. He raises and markets cabbage, onion, and tomato seedlings to farmers mainly from the Koga irrigation scheme. He started this business in 2012 and generated 73,000 birr from a 500 square meter patch of land.

In the 2013/14 cropping season he plans to generate an income of 240,000 birr from the same plot of land. He uses the same plot four times per year to raise and sell vegetable seedlings and farmers are free to buy any quantity of seedling they want.

He prepares and supplies seedlings according to the cropping calendar of different vegetables and his customers’ preferences. Tilahun raises seedlings with care, treating them with different insecticides and fungicides. He also advises his clients about different field management practices. However, he tends to supply only a few commonly-grown vegetables, usually not the most recently-released varieties. To fill this gap, the LIVES project has started demonstrating improved varieties of different vegetable crops in collaboration with Tilahun.

Generally, the seedling raising and marketing approach has some advantages over a certified seed supply approach for smallholder vegetable producers:

  1. Farmers access vigorous, healthy and productive seedlings in their vicinity from skilled private nursery operators
  2. Farmers access seedlings of improved varieties of vegetable crops according to their financial resource and farm size
  3. Farmers are protected from purchasing nonviable seed from unethical seed retailers
  4. Farmers avoid contact with dangerous seed treatment chemicals
  5. Scarce farmer resources such as labor, land and finances are protected
  6. Opportunities for additional technical advice to farmers on field management of different vegetables are provided
  7. Employment opportunities for youths and women from small plots of land are created

Seedling raising and marketing is an emerging approach to supply planting materials of different vegetable crops. It facilitates the adoption of improved production packages and the dissemination of improved varieties. It is also a viable business in big irrigation schemes and has several benefits to farmers (mentioned above).

However, so far it has not received much attention and technical support by development workers as an alternative input supply approach. Most of the seedling suppliers are educated and youngsters. Therefore, seedling raising and marketing is an entry point for motivating and retaining the young generation on the agriculture sector as well as to speed up the commercialization process of the dominant subsistence agriculture in our country.

Contributed by LIVES regional team,  Amhara

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